The Week (At the Arizona Capitol) March 31-April 4

Monday began with the unveiling of a statue of Barry Goldwater in the rotunda of the Capital Museum. It was an appropriate unveiling — on the same day a conservative budget was to be discussed by the Senate.

But first, bills that were amended by the House had to go through the Appropriations Committee. The committee struck down $1 million in funding for chiropractic services, the controversial $900,000 for private prisons, $3 million from Joint Technology Education District funding, and $500,000 in mental-health grants.

In terms of the private prison funding, Rep. Chad Campbell (D-Phoenix) called for a special session of the Appropriations Committee to figure out where that money came from for the budget. He said that the Department of Corrections did not ask for the money, so he was suspicious for the motives behind the private prisons allotment, especially because there was no testimony in the House Appropriations Committee about the topic.

The Senate was ready to argue the bill in the Committee of the Whole and third-read it but, because it was taking so long for amendments to come out, Senate President Andrew Biggs (R-Gilbert) delayed the action until the next morning.

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The Committee of the Whole was called into a session early Tuesday morning that lasted into early afternoon. Biggs made several reductions from the House version, cutting the charter school funding in half, to $16.5 million from $33 million. He also cut the university funding added by the House in half, and added a footnote that prohibited spending general fund money on research for medical marijuana.

The Democrats, and Sen. Steve Pierce (R-Prescott), objected to the changes that were made, and word spread that if the budget were sent to the governor with those cuts, she would veto it.

In particular, there were a number of amendments attempting to refinance the University of Arizona, after Biggs’ amendment that would reduce the $5.5 million that the House had appropriated to the universities to $2.75 million. The money was originally split so that the U.A. and Arizona State University got $2.5 million each while Northern Arizona University got $500,000, but after the amendment those numbers were sliced in half.

Pierce proposed an amendment that would restore the money by moving increases from N.A.U. and A.S.U. back to the U.A. The $5.5 million had been saved by the U.A. through bond refinancing so Pierce, and others, attempted to give the money back to U.A.

“Why would they work so hard to save so much money if they’re not going to be able to put it to good use and it’s just going to get into our great slush fund up here?” Sen. Steve Farley (D-Tucson) asked. “Our university system is our economic generator in this state.”

Sen. Kelli Ward (R-Lake Havasu City) disagreed. “I think we’ve worked really hard on trying to establish parity and get it to a point where our entire university system is on par, and I hate to interfere with the hard work that we’ve done so far,” she said.

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Once again there was an amendment for a U.A. veterinary school and $15 million in discovery and innovation funding. They were both shot down.
An amendment by Katie Hobbs (D-Phoenix) to add money to child-care subsidies raised passionate discussion. Hobbs pulled out a picture of a mother who lost her children because she left them in the car while she went into a job interview. Farley made another long speech to defend the amendment.

“I think it’s incumbent upon us to look at things like the Hobbs amendment to totally fully fund child-care subsidies in order to make sure our kids do have a chance to have a life just as good as ours,” Farley said “That’s our job in government.”

The Republicans said that they liked the ideas the Democrats were putting forward, but they didn’t feel like the state had the money to pay for them.

“We all know that we’re going to have to increase revenue to pay for all these great ideas that the minority party has for their better budget,” Ward said. “A better budget only is better if you have money to pay for the things that you propose.”

Once the Senate passed the bill, the House met later that day to say that it didn’t concur with the Senate version of the budget. That left open a number of possibilities. They could sign the Senate’s budget and send it to Gov. Brewer to be vetoed; they could go behind the scenes and try to come up with agreement that they could tack on to get the budget passed; or (the most likely option) they could name three representatives and three senators to a conference committee, where they would come to an agreement on the budget and send it to the governor to be signed.

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On Wednesday, the House and Senate ran through a long list of bills in the Committee of the Whole without much discussion. However, because Gov. Brewer threatened to veto any bill that came to her desk before the budget, the bills were not third-read.

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On Thursday, both the House and Senate heard multiple bills in the Committee of the Whole, as the stalemate on budget negotiations continued.

The House committee passed multiple bills, including one that would allow ranchers to hunt the endangered Mexican grey wolf if wolves attacked their cattle, without discussion.

Rep. Demion Clinco stirred up controversy when he tried to add an amendment to protect mesquite trees from a bill that would allow Water Fund money to be used to remove high-water-usage trees from areas where there are rivers, streams or riparian habitat. The bill would also prohibit the money from being used to plant mesquites, tamarisk, and other high-water-usage trees.

“We are making decisions like this that are going to impact sensitive parts of our state like habitats that are home to birds and insects that are a critical part of our environmental integrity,“ Clinco said after his amendment was called hostile. The amendment failed, but the bill passed through the committee.

Another bill, SB1413, designed to provide tax breaks for manufacturer’s electricity sales, was passed with an amendment that would also exempt those manufacturers from having to pay taxes on natural gas. 

Those bills will go through a third reading after a budget is sent to the governor.

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There was small budget progress made in the House on Thursday, when Rep. Andy Tobin, Rep. John Kavanagh and Rep. Eric Meyer were appointed to a conference committee to come to an agreement with the Senate on the budget. This indicated that the House had the 31 votes necessary to pass the current agreement. However, the Senate adjourned without appointing a committee, meaning that (open) negotiations won’t continue until Monday at the very earliest. Once the conference committee comes up with a deal, it will be put up for a vote in both chambers of the legislature and, if passed, sent to the governor.

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